For most of Google’s history the search ad was relatively unchanged, but starting in late 2009 they began implementing additional extensions, formats and placements on the search page. 2011 turned out to be an incredibly busy time for these changes many of which provided immediate benefits for PPC marketers. Let’s take a look back:
January 10th – Display URL’s Are Standardized to Display as Lowercase Letters Only
Before: www.CoolExampleSite.com | After: www.coolexamplesite.com
The first change of 2011 removed a feature that enabled advertisers to capitalize letters within the display URL. This was useful to help make multiple word domains easier to read. However, Google states that this change is made after determining that standardized display URL’s improved user metrics including click-through rates.
February 2nd – Location Extensions Enhanced With a Distinctive Blue Pin
This change affects only local searches for advertisers that have the location extension enabled. The blue pin is added to the location extension and integrated into the map when the ad qualifies to serve at the top of the page for a local search. This is a useful feature to help the advertiser stand out among a large set of listings.
February 3rd – Longer Headlines For Select Ads That Appear at the Top of the Page
This update enabled advertisers to extend their headline to include the first line of description text as long it is a distinct sentence that ends with a punctuation mark. Google claims this enhances user experience by highlighting more information within the ad, but it could also be seen as an attempt to boost revenue by increasing clicks on paid instead of organic results. This was one of the most significant changes that Google has ever made to how search ads are displayed and provided a great opportunity for advertisers to enhance their messaging and increase click-through rates.
March 24th – Media Ads Display Video Directly From the Search Page
Media ads are released as an automated feature that serves a video (usually a movie trailer) into the ad. This feature is available only to a limited set of advertisers (motion picture studios promoting new release features). Users can find these ads by searching for upcoming films and then view the trailer within the search result page by clicking the thumbnail image.
March 30th – The +1 Button is Added To Search Ads
A “+1” button is added to the right side of ad titles. Users can “+1” ads that they like when logged in by scrolling over the button and clicking as shown in the above image.
Friends of users who have clicked the “+1” button are able to see that recommendation directly from the ad unit as shown above. This personalized experience is intended to help users identify advertisers that are most relevant to them. For advertisers this new feature makes it ever more important that their product and ad quality is worth recommending.
April 25th – Instant Preview for Search Ads
Instant preview for organic results were first released in late 2010 and this update brings that feature to ads. Users are able to preview the landing page for ads by clicking on the instant preview icon and thereby enhance user experience and improve click through quality for advertisers. This update puts added pressure on advertisers to enhance landing page design in order to produce a more quality preview.
May 17th – Display URL Shown in Headline For Select Search Ads
Following the successful release of the extended headline in February, Google followed up with this update which extends the ad headline with the display URL. Google states that the display URL can be an important deciding factor in whether a user clicks on an ad and would allow advertisers to more prominently feature their brand.
June 7th – Embedded Site Links Released
This feature enables advertisers to integrate site links into the text of their ad by matching a site link text exactly with a string of text within the ad. Google automatically detects the match and serves the link within the ad. This is a useful tool for advertisers to stand out in the listings and encourage users to click within the flow of their copy.
November 2nd – New Ad Placements on the Bottom of the Result Page
With this update Google decided to move ads in the right margin to below the organic listings in some cases. Google stated that on average this placement performed better than ads in terms of click-through rate.
Time To Catch Up
Now is a good time to review your ads and make sure they are taking full advantage of all the changes from 2011. Google released these changes at a rapid pace last year so it’s possible that you may have missed a few, but catch up soon because more are sure to be on the way in 2012.